5 reasons to play a local open mic night – and what to expect

You’ve been jamming on your guitar or ukulele at home, right? Maybe you have even shared a song or two with your best friend or your family. Sharing your music with the world can be nerve-racking, but it can also be an uplifting experience! While it always takes courage to share your music and art with someone else. Are you ready for your first open mic night?

Just remember, don’t be hard on yourself. You have begun a new journey with music, and your attitude will make or break your future success with it. You don’t have to be a rock star. You don’t have to play a song like that famous artist or group does. Famous musicians don’t sing songs like anyone else, and you don’t have to sing it like them either. That’s the beauty of music and art. You get to make it your own and put your authentic voice into it. And, guess what? No one will be able to perform it the way you do either!

If you think it’s time to start taking some steps to grow your musicianship and performance skills and to walk a little further along your musical path, know that open mic nights are designed to give new musicians opportunities to share music with appreciative audiences and evolving music communities. Many, many, many great musicians and bands got started at open mic nights or battles of the bands. Even if you don’t aspire to be a professional musician, you will still have a great time trying a local open mic or jam night out.

Here are some reasons why:

  1. You will connect with a music-loving community.
    Open mics are like hangouts for music lovers just like you. You might even feel as if you’ve walked into a new, accepting family. Musicians, after all, pride themselves on living and appreciating different lifestyles. Just check out this article, “10 Things You’ll Never Understand About Musicians.” We bet you can relate!

    Aspiring musicians of all skill levels and abilities will be there to perform songs they have learned and songs they have written. Some will be amazing, and you will wonder why they aren’t famous. Honestly, others will fumble through the chords, forget lyrics, tell bad jokes, or generally seem awkward because they are nervous and don’t have stage experience. That’s OK! It’s actually good. That is how people practice expressing themselves freely and grow as individuals and as musicians. You might hear “Wagon Wheel” five times in one night and then at least once a week for months. You’ll have some fun conversations with people who love the bands you love, and you’ll probably discover some new bands too. You might also encounter a few people who aren’t so nice, but that is all part of the experience.
  2. You will learn—a lot.
    You’ll learn a lot about yourself. You’ll learn a lot about music. You’ll learn a lot about performing.

    Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, performing in public takes a lot of courage and energy. This also holds true whether you’ve been performing all your life or it’s your first time. The only way to learn how to perform better is by practicing performing. Remembering the right chords and lyrics while nervous will get easier. From watching other musicians perform, from talking to them, and maybe even from collaborating with them, you will learn about what to do (and, just as importantly, what not to do).
  3. You only get better at performing by actually performing. 
    Have you heard musicians say a song is never done? Every performance will be a little different, and that’s one reason songs continue to change. Similarly, your performance style will evolve as well. You will develop your own method of establishing a safe performance space, whether it’s on a stage or on the ground. You will only get better with every performance! If you’re feeling brave, film a performance and critique yourself. Don’t push that on yourself, though. Only take video if you know you are ready to do that. Here are a few other helpful tips on how to become a more confident performer from BulletproofMusician.com.
  4. You’ll be inspired, and you’ll grow.
    Sure, you’ll learn a lot, but through musical exploration and music-related conversations, that learning will come with a lot of growth. You’ll start to set goals for your next performance. The next thing you know, you’ll be comfortable singing those three songs you prepared, and you’ll be adding new songs to the list. (This also means you will be practicing more.) The musicians around you will inspire you to try new things, to learn new songs, and maybe even to write your own songs. Performing is a rush, but so is achieving what you set out to do. Because you will be learning and trying new things, you will inevitably grow.
  5. You’re gonna have fun.
    The first time you go to an open mic night, you might be nervous. You might not know anyone, so consider bringing a friend in order to feel more comfortable. Either way, if you love music, you will love open mics because they’re filled with music lovers! You’ll probably even find the crowd is way more supportive than you think. If a particular open mic doesn’t quite have the vibe you are looking for, try another one! Don’t be afraid to drive a little ways to find a place you love.

Here are a few things to know and to expect when you go to an open mic:

  1. Pick an open mic night near you, and go for it! You can Google “open mics,” search Facebook for “open mic events” in your area, or even look through local digital or print media calendars. There might also be a local musician group or open mic group for your area on Facebook. You can also find a list of open mics near you at OpenMikes.org. Peruse the list, and pick one to attend!
  2. Every open mic night is different. Every event has different house rules, practices, routines, and ambiance. Keep an open mind.
  3. It’s OK to be different! Don’t be afraid to play a less popular song or even a song you wrote. 
  4. Locate the sign-up sheet. Do this as soon as you get there so you don’t miss your chance to perform! 
  5. Be prepared. Be confident with performing two to four songs. If you only have one, that is usually OK, but know the sets are typically fifteen to twenty minutes. Here are a few open mic night songs you may consider learning that are already in the Fret Zealot app.
  6. Bring your own gear. Bring your own instrument, amp, pedals, guitar strap, tuner, and cable. Bring backup strings and preamp batteries, if you need them. For reference, here is a quick guide to tuning your instrument. Having all this gear will make things go more quickly, and even if you don’t end up needing everything, you’ll feel better knowing you have it all, just in case. 
  7. It’s great to talk with the audience, but don’t overdo it. Share your nerves, and share the backgrounds of the songs, but remember there is a time limit. Keep in mind that the next person is just as excited to get on stage and to share his or her songs. 
  8. Respect the host and sound engineer. They work hard, so be kind to them. It isn’t easy to navigate all the personalities, criticisms, and specific needs of all the musicians who sign up to perform every week. 
  9. Stay positive, and be encouraging to others. There will likely be at least one critical person who wants to tell you how to improve or will suggest how someone else could improve. While it is important to get constructive criticism, you don’t have to engage in those kinds of conversations (unless you want to). Stay positive. Respond with positivity, and move on.

Every local open mic is essential to your community’s art and music scene, whether it’s small or large. Doing a little light reading about open mics might help alleviate your nerves. Different musicians have varying insights and tips, but here are a few suggestions for open mic etiquette from Guitar World.

Whatever you do, just be positive, and have confidence in yourself and what you’re doing. It’s also totally cool to check out an open mic night without playing it. You can always go back to perform another time. Do what you need to do to achieve your next goal. We know you can do it. Now, be yourself, get out there, and sing your song!

Fret Zealot has over 3,000 song lessons, 80,000 song tracks, every chord and scale, and 60 alternative tunings! Check it out in the Fret Zealot apps or online.